I’m sure you have all been waiting breathlessly since I promised in my February 23rd article that, “Next week I will begin to drill down into the Biblical principles I have observed in every ‘healthy disciple-making church’ I have encountered.” After penning that promise, I took an unanticipated nineteen-week detour to discuss current issues in SBC life. Like many of you, detours and distractions are a part of my daily life.
Some of you have heard me say that flexibility in my role will kill me because I live in a fluid world. For those who have been in my office, you know that my motto is “a clean and uncluttered desk is the sign of a sick mind.” Some of that is caused by the reality that at any given moment I will be working on at least a dozen different projects. I don’t share any of that to complain or rationalize, but merely to explain the delay in keeping my promise. A man’s word is his bond, and my goal is to be a man of integrity.
Now regarding my promise…In a little over a week, I will complete my twenty-eighth year of service as an Associational Mission Strategist. During that time, God has given me the privilege of seeing healthy disciple-making churches in multiple contexts: church planting, church revitalization, international missions, and inner-city missions. He also gifted me with the ability to differentiate between cause and effect, or as some might state it, between doing the right things and getting the right results.
I’ve listened to the first two posts of a Christianity Today blog that is garnering a lot of attention. It is entitled “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” It’s basically an autopsy on what happens when a church places its focus on getting the right results, while they ignore the reality that they are not doing things the right way. Integrity, character, and relationships ARE important. You cannot brush off collateral damage as simply a by-product of getting the right results. All of us are accountable to God for how we steward our time and talents as we humbly acknowledge that any fruit that might be produced is because of Him (John 15:1-8).
Several years ago I began to write, refine my thoughts, preach, and teach regarding the principles I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. I began with seven and after bouncing them off of one of the best global mission strategists in the world, Jim Slack who God has since called home, I have settled on the following eight:
1. Emphasizes genuine relationships,
2. Focused on life transformation rather than simply a transfer of information,
3. Willing to hold one another accountable,
4. Self-sacrificing for the sake of the Gospel,
5. Designed and functioning with multiplication in mind,
6. Organizationally aligned from top to bottom,
7. Always intentional and proactive, and
8. Implementing Biblical principles in a culturally relevant manner.
Before I expand on each of them in the following weeks, let me suggest that these principles are imbedded in The Great Commission:
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen”
Jesus’ opening statement, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” tells us that He is in charge and He is giving the orders. His concluding promise, “I am with you always” implies that we have access to that power; however, with great power comes great responsibility. God will hold us ACCOUNTABLE for the way we steward that power.
The primary command (main verb) is to “make disciples.” This command requires us to communicate two critical realities: First is the fact that apart from Christ, people are separated from the love of God, stand eternally condemned in their sin, and incapable of finding true joy and peace in this life. This reality should propel us in our willingness to be SELF-SACRIFICING. This also acknowledges that there is an initiating point for becoming a disciple: confession, repentance, and conversion that speak to the evangelistic nature of our self-sacrifice. Second, we understand that the Biblical concept of a disciple is not simply someone who is professing Christ, but a disciple is someone who is possessing a new and different way of life: TRANSFORMATION.
In addition to the one main verb, there are three descriptive participles in the passage. The first is having gone. Greek sentence structure and grammar raises this participle’s impact parallel to the force of a main verb. This provides the English translations with its imperative “Go!” This means that laissez-faire, whatever happens, attitude on our part, is not acceptable. Rather it requires us to be constantly vigilant, seeking to identify where God is at work so that we can join Him. In other words, we must be INTENTIONAL and PROACTIVE.
The second participle is “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The modifying clause referring to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speaks to the personal and relational nature of God and the reality that He created us as relational beings and acknowledges that ministry happens at the RELATIONAL level. Baptism has historically provided both a self-identification with the body of Christ and a specific affiliation with a local body of believers. Baptism becomes a symbolic relational connecting point to God and to fellow believers.
The third participle, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you,” implies that our instructions are ALIGNED with Divine teachings and practices. And that alignment is not just knowledge-based. It is teaching with the intention of changing lives to “observe all that” Jesus had commanded.
His concluding promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” means that the task will be multi-generational. Jesus’ parting statement in Acts 1:8 was, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This statement speaks to the geographical expansion that will be required to carry the Gospel to the world. When these two concepts are combined, a process that is constantly EXPANDING and MULTIPLYING is required.
In the Biblical language (Greek), Jesus said our target audience is “panta ta eqnh” (panta ta ethne). Unfortunately, it is poorly translated into English as “all the nations.” A better translation would be “all ethnic groups.” Nations implies a geo-political state while the term “ethnic group” points to the language and cultural differences that exist in every nation. To reach every ethnic group, our disciple-making efforts must be CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE.
In the weeks ahead, I will begin to unpack these principles. But in the meantime, I would encourage you to objectively review them based upon the whole of scripture and not just the Great Commission.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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